Ida Cohen – a legend of Tamworth

From Australia’s Jewish Past:

Ida Cohen

a legend of Tamworth

First published in J-Wire July 13, 2021

Ida Cohen was born in Tamworth, New South Wales, in 1867. Her mother, Esther Cohen (nee Solomon), died when Ida was fourteen, after which her father, Nathan Cohen, married Esther’s sister, Deborah.

Ida was educated at the St Dominic’s Convent where the family felt she would receive a good education. Ida married her first cousin, Victor Cohen in 1901, who was born in Cooma and was extremely well respected in Tamworth’s business and general community. The couple went on to have three sons, George, Nathan and Alan.

Ida’s father was an important personality in Tamworth and was twice mayor. In the days of development and pioneering Jewish enterprise contributed much to the area and a small but vigorous communal life existed.

Ida lived the full span of her 102 years in Tamworth. Her family was part of the prominent Cohen family which included the Hon. Henry Emanuel Cohen, lawyer, and politician, Fanny Cohen who married Sir Benjamin Benjamin of Melbourne, and Caroline Cohen, who married journalist and newspaper proprietor, Solomon Joseph.

Ida was renowned for her commitment to a wide range of charitable and community causes until her final years. Not one to ‘stay home and wipe marks off mirrors’, she found lifelong employment in such work. She was inspired by the outbreak of World War I and began fundraising for the Red Cross, the cause for which she was most closely associated. She and her sister Alice were founding members of the Tamworth branch of the British Red Cross Society.

She set up a collecting station on the street corner outside the Tamworth Post Office, where, from behind a small table, she would gently persuade pedestrians to donate to the cause. This was her regular spot for fundraising, for the Red Cross, and for other causes, until she was nearly ninety.

In 1954, at 87, Ida was awarded the Red Cross Long Service medal, and her devotion to charitable work was officially rewarded by the granting of the imperial honor, Order of the British Empire – Member (Civil) (MBE).

However, her influence spread far wider – and for longer – than this. She was a leading figure in Tamworth culture and society, involved in the community in all ways she could be. She held many voluntary and honorary positions, as a justice of the peace, and an active member of a wide range of organisations, including the Tamworth Ladies’ Benevolent Society, the Tamworth and District Ambulance Committee, and the Country Women’s Association (CWA), as well as the women’s auxiliaries of Tamworth Hospital, and the Returned Sailors’, Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia. She was also the Foundation President of the Peel Valley Historical Society and a member of the Australian Jewish Historical Society.

Ida delivered the Anzac Day commemorative address in Tamworth in 1959, aged 91.

Ida Cohen died in Tamworth in 1970. By this time, she was one of the last Jewish residents of the town. Her legacy lives on as a striking example of a woman who was a highly influential leader in a regional community, with a strong sense of personal responsibility for attending to community needs and culture.

From Australia's Jewish Past is written by Ruth Lilian OAM for AJHS and published weekly in J-Wire. ​